For 50 years, the fishermen's friend

Looking out over the docks of the once vibrant fishing community of Lowestoft, the Rev Jim Izzard could be excused for feeling a sense of deep depression for the industry he is about to retire from.

Looking out over the docks of the once vibrant fishing community of Lowestoft, the Rev Jim Izzard could be excused for feeling a sense of deep depression for the industry he is about to retire from.

He speaks with nostalgia about how people were once able to walk from the north to the south of Britain's most easterly town by stepping from one trawler to the next, but admits his sadness that fewer than a dozen fishing boats now leave dock to ply their trade.

But while the depletion of Britain's fishing industry has been stark, Mr Izzard embraces his role with the Fishermen's Mission with the same enthusiasm as the day he started nearly 50 years ago.

Over that half a century he has worked in every corner of the UK, providing spiritual and practical support to fishermen and their families - often breaking the news of tragic deaths at sea and helping to pick up the pieces of shattered lives.

But in Mr Izzard's own words, his career has been a calling rather than a job that even managed to persuade him out of his first retirement in 2004 when he was asked to take over the reins in Lowestoft, from where he serves the whole of the eastern region.

It has been a particularly poignant few years for the 70-year-old Scotsman because his first posting in the 1960s was in Lowestoft. Now he has finally decided to bring an end to his fulfilling career and yesterday his work was recognised in a service of thanksgiving held at the Salvation Army Citadel in the town.

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“I would much rather sit on an icy dock talking to someone about the real issues in life than standing in a pulpit,” said Mr Izzard.

“I love preaching, but I also love people. As more problems hit the fishing industry, the work of the mission increases because there are greater needs within the community. We are not here just for existing fishermen, who are earning their living, but also those who are retired, sick and injured.”

Since Mr Izzard returned to Lowestoft in 2004, he has been responsible for handing out nearly £70,000 in grants to fishermen or their families who have fallen on hard times.

He said: “There is a lot of satisfaction knowing you are giving this help. It's a Christian calling and I job I love, which I get paid for doing - not many people can say that. However, now I'm into my 70s I decided it was time to retire and hand over to somebody else.”

Mr Izzard, a qualified psychotherapist, is on 24-hour call and is responsible for visiting the family of fishermen lost at sea to break the news to them. As a young member of the mission he was given the grim task of having to visit relatives of the Lowestoft-based trawler, the Boston Pionair , which sank with the loss of nine men on Valentine's Day 1965.

“The mission went round every home and broke the news to the fishermen's widows and I'm still visiting some of those widows today,” said Mr Izzard. “This is when the mission comes into its own because we are there to care and look after these people. Not only do we break the news, but we care for the family until we are no longer needed. We are here for them no matter what.

“Essentially we are a Christian mission, but we don't bash people over the head with a bible. It's about caring and loving in Christ's name.”

The figures of accidents in the fishing industry make grim reading, with an average of 62 accidents and up to 10 fatalities at sea around the British coast every month.

In the heyday of Lowestoft's fishing industry, the sight of 200 boats sailing in and out of dock was not uncommon and still resonates with Mr Izzard.

He said: “When I came to Lowestoft for the first time in the 1960s, this was one of the largest fishing ports in the country. The place was teeming with trawlers.

“My first job early in the morning would be to go to visit the boats that were going out and I would be able to step from boat to boat. It saddens me to see how the industry has been depleted. The fishermen work extremely hard to earn little money, quite frankly.”

Mr Izzard and his wife Alison, who have five children and nine grandchildren, are to retire to the Isle of Wight, where they will run a guest house. Timothy Jenkins will take over the helm at the Fishermen's Mission, in Lowestoft, from March 1.